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The Non-Committal RSVP: Is L.A. A Commitment Free Zone?

Are you having trouble getting people to

commit to showing up?

I’m impressed with the two convicted convicts who escaped from a NY prison. Before you start commenting on the crimes they committed, I know they are horrible and dangerous. Still, I admire their ability to get a plan together and stick with it. Obviously, they are not from LA.

Here in LA, nobody will commit to anything. Elsewhere, people are taking to the streets to protest acts of racism. In LA, you can’t get anyone to protest anything unless you can convince them that they will lose weight and get a movie deal if they march. And even that might not work. 

I have a friend who lives a whole twenty minutes away from me, but I haven’t seen her in two months. Tracking Janet down and trying to get her to schedule a dinner with me is like an episode of True Detective. We play phone tag and when I finally hear her voice, we have to take out our calendars and check dates. There are then four re-bookings. Her excuses:

“Oh, I put it in my calendar wrong.” 

“Oh, that’s when my AA meeting is…” 

“Oh… I have to finish watching Orange Is The New Black…” 

“Oh… you’re there at the restaurant? I thought we said next week?”

What is the problem? Why can’t we RSVP and mean it? People speak English in L.A., but “yes” doesn’t mean what it should. It could mean, “maybe” or “fine unless something better comes along.” People here are as irresponsible as they are on Facebook, promising to attend an event but having no intention of going. I went to a Meetup where seventy people RSVP’d to go on a hike. Only four people came and we had no idea where to hike to because one of the no-shows was the leader!

But, perhaps, this is not just LA. When Donald Trump announced his presidential run, he hired NY actors to get a crowd together. Apparently, people only show up if they’re paid to do so.

I hate to say it, but crazy people seem more reliable. Marshall Applewhite, the 65-year-old leader of the Heaven's Gate group, got his followers to wear purple, castrate and kill themselves. Remember Jim Jones? He persuaded over 900 followers to drink Kool Aid and off themselves… on time. ISIS has whack jobs coming from all over who are volunteering to kill themselves. How come I can’t get a friend to show up for Happy Hour?

Are the only people willing to commit the ones that need to be committed?

So, if those NY convicts can manage to sneak in power tools, inch through a sewer, and hide in the forest together, why can’t my friends show up for brunch?

Or… is it just me? Let me hear from you. Are you having trouble making plans with others?

Thinking About Hiring a Virtual Assistant? Read This!

As I’ve been spending hour after hour doing office work, I’m reminded of comic Gary Muleteer’s great line: “Do you ever just feel like peeing on the incoming mail?”
Yes! If I had the right equipment, I just might.
All of us creative types know that when we get to perform, it’s a joy. But too much of our time is taken up with soul sucking hours in front of a computer—answering emails, trying to remove weird things from websites and even weirder things from credit reports, getting distracted by checking auctions on eBay, and reading blogs we either forget or wish we’d written ourselves. “Entrepreneur” is a French word that translates to “I work in my underwear.” I’m working at breakfast. I’m working all the freakin’ time.
Then, voila! A month ago a friend suggested I hire a Virtual Assistant. My very own VA!
“What a great idea,” I thought. I could hire someone in some far away time zone, so when I wake up, all my office work will be finished. It will be a dream come true. The hell with a prince, I found myself singing, “Someday my VA will come!”
The only problem was my friend refused to share her VA, so I had to find my own. Like everything else, that turned into a full time job. I posted on Elance, Skype interviewed people from everywhere with a variety of backgrounds, ran credit reports, and finally found someone who spoke English. Only then was I able to take a shower and get dressed.
Our first session was difficult; her baby wouldn’t stop crying. But, she was able to nurse and type all at the same time—that’s pretty impressive, if you ask me. (But perhaps we should have turned off the video feed, which would have meant I could have stayed in my underwear!)
The next step was training her. She had to catch onto my style, become familiar with my computer programs, and start answering emails. That too took a full month of training. While I was busy showing her the ropes, everything was piling up. That meant I had to get up at 5 AM to get work done before training my VA. I knew it would be worth it once she took over.
Alas, the day came where I could finally be free to focus on the fun, creative part. My VA would take care of the bills, write contracts, and all the other nonsensical busy work I found myself consumed by. This was the first day of the rest of my life and I rushed to my computer, excited to see my empty inbox, only to find there were tons of emails waiting for me. On our next Skype call, my VA told me that she had an anxiety attack and had to take off. This was the first I was hearing about the condition. I understood and suggested Xanax. Then I reviewed the tasks, told her to give it a go, and did something I hadn’t done in 6 months: I went to a movie.
The next morning, my inbox was overwhelmed with triple the usual content. Contracts had not been prepared, and my VA stood me up at what was to be our Skype meeting.
All she had to do was walk from her bedroom to her desk. How can you possibly be late for that? There was no conceivable excuse. She couldn’t say, “I tried to reach you.” After all I can be texted, faxed, Skyped, tweeted, voxed, facebooked, and emailed. It’s not as if we’d been communicating through the Psychic Network.
This was a mess…virtually. Two days later, I got an email saying she had had to help her mother with an estate sale and she would see me later that day. That didn’t happen. So, instead of getting my work done, I got a fully trained woman who’s out there in the world with all my passwords. Lucky me.
Now, where did I put that Xanax?

Aerobic Laughing: A New Weight Loss Plan

Congratulations to Caitlyn Jenner. 
Looking at the upcoming Vanity Fair cover, I admired her courage to come out of shame and emerge as the person she was meant to be. We have all read about Bruce Jenner’s decades of living in a body that didn’t match who he knew himself to be. 
On some level, I can relate to that. With the risk of sounding shallow, I have had my own body image struggles and can identify with Caitlyn. I know this is far different from being transgender, but how often I have looked in the mirror and seen a stranger with belly fat and stretch marks. And, like my dogs, I, too, have nipples on my stomach. Inside was a skinny, glamorous woman, but nobody else was getting to see her.
Courtesy of  Cathryn Michon
Source: Courtesy of Cathryn Michon
One of the problems was my weight. It was always hard to shed those pounds. It only got worse after I turned 50, as my metabolism seemed to have taken an early retirement. I now have to jog five miles just to work off a tic-tac I ate in the 90’s. The only things that fit from my earlier years are my earrings. Like Vegas, what goes on in my body—stays in my body. 
I’d tried every diet, every pill, even Overeaters Anonymous—which doesn’t make sense—what’s so anonymous about it? You’re fat and everyone knows it. A lot of things didn’t work, but what finally did was laughing. The same techniques I used on stage as a standup comic proved to be fat fighters. Humor turned out to be the new secret weight loss method. You can literally laugh off your pounds.  
It’s no joke (excuse the pun)—laughing has been shown to boost your immune system and reduce both stress and physical pain. It also lowers your blood sugar levels. Dr. Helen Pilcher, a neuroscientist AND a comic (no, she doesn’t go by the name Shecky Pilcher), has found that laughing for one hour can burn up to 100 calories. And you don’t have to squeeze into spandex to laugh.
As soon as I stopped beating myself up about my body and started approaching food with a sense of humor, I lightened up—literally.
Here are a few steps to help you feel more confident, happier, and healthier:
1. Poke fun at your fat. When someone asked, “How are you?” instead of feeling ashamed of being overweight, I’d joke about it. “I’m only fifteen pounds away from what it says on my driver’s license.” Self-mocking is better than anything else for taking the heaviness out of the issue. 
2. Gain power over temptation. When you laugh at something, you have power over it. So rather than reach for that cookie, I take a picture of it. I put it on my phone. Let anyone show me a picture of a grandchild and I'll say, “I’ll show you something sweet.”
3. Have snappy comebacks for your inner heckler. As a standup comic, I know how to deal with drunk, abusive hecklers. But when it came to that nasty, defiant voice inside my head, I was never so quick. I let it cut into my confidence and would give up on dieting. Now, I pull a Donald Trump and tell the under-miner, “Hey, you’re fired!” I replaced that critical voice with a more upbeat, “Hey gorgeous, you’re going to be bikini-ready. You’re on the John Oliver, Jon Stewart, Amy Schumer Diet.”  You won’t, but if you should want to cheat on the diet, you can slip in a few moments of morose brooding. 

Marketing Tips From A Few "Mad Men"

Last week we said goodbye to the hit series Mad Men, an inside look at the scandalous world of advertising in the 1960s -- featuring sex, smoking and drinking. Don Draper gave modern day entrepreneurs lessons on how to present messages that will captivate an audience. David Letterman covered some of the same territory more recently, but we’ll save that for another blog. 
Below are a few of the best marketing take-aways from Mad Men:
1. Find that story about the product. Stats and data are boring. Leave them to Pew and Nate Silver. What Don Draper did so successfully was tell a story that connects to people’s hearts, knowing that’s what they respond to. As he said, “YOU are the product. You have to feel something. That's what sells.” Don’s disturbing past – that he came from a poor, troubled family – allowed him to understand what ordinary people go through. He learned from his past that a story has to touch others. Keep that in mind on how you can turn your mess to a success.
2. Take your clients out. Tweeting is the one night stand of connecting. It’s not enough. Back in the 60s, they had to make a call on a land line and take a client out for dinner and as many drinks as it took to win them over. They didn’t count on emoticons and fast sells. When was the last time you had a meal with a client? It’s an excuse for fun and a dirty martini. 
3. Don’t wait to be invited or for something to happen. Be pro-active. In the final episode, we saw Joan passed over by the male hierarchy. She remained angry only long enough to register what happened, and then moved on to form her own company. I’d like to say that sexism ended twenty years ago, but I won’t lie to you, especially as you flip through the channels looking for a female talk show host to replace the guys. I’ve ranted about this here.
We can learn from women. Like Joan, comic Kathy Griffin wasn’t satisfied by what was being offered to her (more accurately, what wasn’t) so she started her own room and told her stories with such great humor. She celebrated being on the D-list, turning that mess into a successful career. Put on your walking shoes and take your cues from women, as well as from men. The world can be your stage. If you don’t believe me, Shakespeare said it too.
Want to develop your message? Speak? Or just be funnier?
Come to a Judy Carter workshop in LA, SF, and Chicago. Info Here.

How To Connect To Your Audience (Even After You’re Dead)

No matter how powerful, smart, inspiring, or hilarious your Message is— it’s ineffective if no one is listening. As a performer and business owner, your relationship to your audience is everything. It doesn’t matter whether that audience consists of clients, customers, web surfers, or even someone looking at your grave – if no one pays attention, do you really exist?
Just last week, at my NYC “Message of You” Workshop, I asked the participants to share the Message they would want on their gravestones. Your “Message” is your life’s logline— a combo of who you are and who’s on the receiving end (mourners, grave diggers, clergy, lovers who don’t want to spring for a room). At first, my students hesitated, awkwardly trying to figure out what they might say. Some chose the “keep on laughing” route, though no one said, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” A popular Message was “Care about others!” These are fine, if you want your Message to sound like a Hallmark card. 
So how do we come up with a global Message that inspires others while keeping our individuality? Walk through a Jewish cemetery and you might think the Message is already carved into the stone; they’re all the same. While trying to find my mother’s grave, I stopped seven times as I read, “Beloved wife, mother, daughter.”  Jewish cemeteries are notorious for having a pretty uniform layout and it’s not like you can say ‘turn right at the mausoleum and a left at the 6 foot statue of Jesus’. As I walked around and read what was on the gravestones, I wondered how everyone was beloved when we know what really happens at Seders. Missing was the humor, the last dig at your spouse, the sharp retort to the Buddinsky sister-in-law. Your stone is your closing number, summing it all up, an eternal Facebook page. Your life is your Message. If ever there was a place to put “The Message of You,” it’s on your gravestone!
How do you find that inspiring Message? The pithy wrap up? Your Martin Luther King Jr. moment?…  Writing a great tombstone is just like preparing a terrific speech. You should shape your personal Message while empathizing with your audience. It’s safe to assume those in a graveyard might be in a down mood, not dissimilar from a corporate audience. So, write your Message keeping in mind the audience. 
Given this, “It’s about them” philosophy, my students started formulating powerfully transforming Messages, creating gravestones that will be wake-up calls long after they are dead. 
Some of my favorites:
“I’m laying down but you’re standing up. Make something of yourself.”
“I told you I wasn’t feeling well. Don’t ignore that pain!” 
Mine was: “What are you looking at? You’re gonna be here one day. Get out of this graveyard and live!” 
Getting to take off with something like that makes dying -- to die for.  
You don’t have to put it in stone, but what would your stone say?

Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.